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The Cabal of Eight II Pt.12: Peek-a-Blue

Blue deluge at the door

Morning, 23rd of Monsoon – Fauna (played by Jenn) stumbled into the house from the street looking even more haggard than usual. Wordlessly she felt her way along the walls to her room and shut the door softly behind her. Szoosha (played by Isis) who just finished feeding Fauna’s animals had noticed the polished stones around the druid’s neck glistening in the strong early light. Mesmerized by the sparkle the black scale naga stared at them, his serpent-eyes tracking them until Fauna was behind her bedroom door. Excor (played by Cris) was reclining in quiet contemplation.

Szoo: “Oooh, shiny! I like shiny things!”

Cris (studying his character sheet and mumbling under his breath): “Hmm, huh, mmmr, okay, no, what, pffp, er, okay, alright. That’s it, that’s what I need.” Cris flipped his well-worn character sheet on the table in front of him.

Excor (giving the naga the c’mon hand signal): “I’m going to the bazaar to pick up some supplies, we better go together.”

They left the house headed towards the bazaar. The sky was a dull even gray and the air was heavy and moist and smelled strongly of brine. Taking a sudden detour they decided to stop at the Carpenters’ Union to hire some carpenters to repair the floor and trapdoor into the root cellar. Excor hired a local carpenter that served their row. He would send an apprentice for 1 copper to assess the job. A short while later, they arrived at the bustling indoor bazaar where Excor was looking for three one-gallon jugs (5 sp ea.), one copper funnel (2 sp), and a jar of glue paste for 1 silver piece. Szoo purchased 5 glass potion bottles at 1 gp each.

After finding what he needed, and stuffing the items in his bag of holding, Excor left for Wensaer’s Alchemy Shop (The Cabal of Eight Pt.7: A Red Rat), Szoo followed. At Wensaer’s however, Szoo purchased two bottles of Alchemist’s Fire at 100 gold pieces each. As the pair left, Wensaer inquired after Gornix, the old man seemed worried. The others simply said they had not seen him in a while now. The old wizard twirled a pinch of his white beard between his fingers.

Later, the pair of adventuring mages browsed Baba’s Apothecary, the air spiced with a pleasant mélange of exotic flavors and tobacco. Excor picked up 4 ounces of the mid-grade smoking herb mix and 1-ounce of Lotus Wort for 4 silver pieces. Lotus Wort is a hairy moss harvested from along the Serpent Coast that can reduce the duration of the effects of lotus pollen and in the case of the Black Lotus, change the death-effect to sleep if consumed before. Baba was not much for conversation but she was fretting about the next shipment of lotus and deep forest medical herbs, it was late. They left the shop, Excor packing his pipe with fresh herbs, and turned out onto the crowded street.

The pair of adventuring mages was walking at a leisurely pace finally on their way home. Unexpectedly, Thorn the beggar tripped directly into their path from behind a rain barrel. Szoosha jumped behind Excor and wondered aloud if they should do something, after all, it was obvious that he was following them. Excor, however, took this opportunity to engage him in conversation.

Excor (instantly putting on a false air of friendly joy): “Ah! My friend Thorn! So glad to see you!”

Thorn (a little leery): “Uh, yeah. Hey, uh you got any o’ those herbs to spare?” He pulled out a charred corncob pipe.

Excor (tossing his smoke pouch to him): “Of course my friend. Here. You, uh, wouldn’t happen to have any info for me would you? Anyone we should know about maybe following us around?”

Thorn: “Hehe, naw there’s nobody like that!” He tossed the bag back to Excor, lit, and then took a tug on his old pipe.

Excor: “So, what is your price anyway? We can beat whoever’s employing you right now.”

Thorn (suddenly stepping back and putting his hands up): “Whoa there! Whoa there. The guild would my head, there’s rules, ironclad, cannot be broken.”

Excor: “Well, we are interested in getting some eyes and ears on the streets if ya know what I mean!”

Thorn: “Well, my coin is up fer the bidding. She holds my coin currently but if ya outbid h…my employer tomorrow at dawn in the White Prong. I’m all yers!”

Isis (gasping): “Oh no! She’s got him too!”

Excor: “Well, my friend we need to be on our way. How about we walk and talk.”

Thorn (between puffs): “Okay.”

Cris: “He slipped up. The probably has his coin. Well, we know where she’s going to be at dawn.”

Isis: “Alright, we’re gonna fight a DRAGON!”

Cris: “We need to prepare! We can’t just fight her in the White Prong we’ll wind in guild court again!”

Isis: “Oh yeah, I forgot about that.”

Consequently, the pair of mages and Thorn the beggar were walking at a rapid pace in the direction of the alley through which Fauna’s rental sat. They were maybe two rows from their destination when without warning Thorn wheeled around.

Thorn (starting into a light jog): “Bye! Looks like I gotta go!”

Instantly, both Excor and Szoo spotted them. Walking directly towards them were 2 scrawny humans each wielding a high-quality silver cutlass followed by a large barbarian, probably Fuglotian by appearance, in a horned helmet with bronze bracers, a black leather war belt girding his waist and a very large superior quality Tulwar in his hands. To their left was another human, probably a mage of some type, with a quarter staff in his hands and bronze bracers on his wrists. All four were in quilted blue robes.

Szoo: “Crap! It’s them.”

So Excor swept up the Naga in his blue cape (The Cabal of Eight Pt.31: The Welfare of Rats) and teleported them both home into the center of the main room. Someone began pounding on the door. Excor approached cautiously telling Szoo to “get ready” before yanking the door wide open. A carpenter’s apprentice stood there a little surprised. He was here to take measurements and assess the damage. His work took little time, soon enough he presented Excor with a contract.

The price would be 1 gold piece and 5 silvers, Excor quickly signed it. In short, tomorrow the apprentice and two journeymen would arrive after breakfast. The young boy left as soon as he finished reading out the terms. Some time had passed since the pair of mages had spotted the dragon’s men, they were certain that the Blue Dragon Gang had not been able to track them back to the house.

Excor walked into the makeshift alchemy lab and began filling the jugs with the mead from his magical golden chalice (Cabal of Eight Pt.38: The Black Tombs Pt.2). Meanwhile, Szoo went down into the cellar and into the secret passage to bottle some naphtha. A very quiet hour passed then suddenly without warning with a thunderous rush of water the front door is blasted from its hinges.

Excor shouted out, “Assassins!”

To Be Continued…

Bizarre Beasties #13 – The Boar-Wolf

The Boar-Wolf, a nasty wolf and wild boar conglomeration. A new pregenerated monster for Dice & Glory that has a wicked surprise on occasion. Especially a challenge when confronted as war-beasts these large beasts rip, gore, and trample all foes!

I’ve been experimenting with mixing various mundane animals together and adding some strange abilities. I did find an identical creature already created for a crappy television special decades ago. I had already had this as a concept so, I let that influence me a little. Though the creature is a simple brute with a few surprises should the GM see fit to make use of those.

Bizarre Beasties can be used at the discretion of Game-Masters to add variety to their game worlds easily and quickly. GM’s can drop the fully fleshed Boar-Wolf into game sessions immediately without any prep-work beyond reading the document. Finally, the Boar-Wolf is a great addition to any GM’s bestiary.

Bizarre Beasties #13 – 787k

Dangerous Boar-Wolf beasts that gore with their tusks and rend with their powerful jaws!

The Cabal of Eight II Pt.11: The Labyrinth of Weird Death

The paths and twisted walls of the labyrinth disappeared in all directions into a hazy blue-green horizon. Clouds of blue-green mists rolled over the impossible landscape and the fabric of reality itself seemed to seethe and roll, as do the deeps of the ocean. The dense, moist air was cool and made her head swim. It smelled overwhelmingly of fresh-cut greenery carrying the spice of moldering wood. The walls of the labyrinth also seemed to shift with the tide rearranging in the wake of each swell. She could see no center, no goal towards which to strive.

The Decapitator Throne

Again, she began drifting towards the black iron spikes atop the wall. Fauna (played by Jenn) canceled the power of her ring of levitation. She had snagged the ring from the group treasury, the hiding place in the clubroom back at the Red Helm Tavern. The druidess had made a quick stop there before heading out to the secret meeting in the secret caverns beneath the Old Amphitheater.

Her feet landed softly onto the cold stone. She found herself back in a narrow lane of the maze. The floor was of damp flagstones and the walls were a chaotic patchwork of adobe, fired bricks, natural stone, and mortar. From every crack, uneven surface, and fissure grew twisted woody branches, clumps, and patches of hairy and bright green mosses, as well as flows of yellow slime molds. The great flagstones were also uneven causing the floor of the lane to undulate up and down, so deep in places that one could hide in the dip easily from others approaching from either end of the seeming infinite lane.

Fauna exhaled and began moving forward turning with every corner into identical lanes, some short, some dead-ends, and some choked with woody vines and dead branches. Occasionally, she happened upon the corpse of a fellow competitor for head priest/priestess of the Brotherhood of the Rope. She turned a corner and saw a giant pale mushroom blocking the way with the terrified face of an initiate sinking and disappearing into it. She turned the corner.

Not long after that, she found a huge clump of limp black roots blocking her way lying across the way. The druid was going to climb over it until she saw a pale human arm hanging out of the clump banded by purple bruises as if squeezed by ropes or tentacles. She quickly changed direction. Along the way, she managed to avoid a tripwire, a trapdoor, and a spring-loaded scythe blade as she progressed. Eventually she came upon a high narrow red-lit opening in the wall that glowed yellow with firelight.

She slipped into the lit and comfortably warm chamber. The walls and low ceiling were of finely masoned but large blocks of stone that shone red-orange in the firelight that blazed from the two large golden braziers. Before her was a throne carved of the same stone as the wall blocks with an imprint of the reclining human form in the stone with a golden and jeweled crown where you would expect, over the crown of the human-shaped crevice.

She noticed a young girl with long black hair standing against one of the walls, another initiate. The girl had sneered at her in the lineup.

Jenn: “I hope that b***h dies.”

Isis: “Sis!”

Jenn: “Well, she was mean to me!”

Stepping in front of the throne was yet another blue-robed petitioner, Fauna also recognized him from the lineup. Certainly, she and this pair seemed to be the only surviving pledges to have reached the center of the labyrinth. The man contemplated the throne, at its foot was a high step carved with druidic script. It said, “A good druid is humble.”

He strode over to the step bowed his head, said what sounded like a brief prayer and sat in the broad stone seat. Immediately the golden crown dropped to his shoulders around his neck, he screamed, then the seat and back of the throne opened like a trap door and his body and severed head dropped into an unseen sepulcher. Consequently, the stones swung back and the blood that covered it slowly faded and disappeared. Fauna grabbed her neck.

Jenn & Isis (in unison): “Oh boy!”

The young girl chewed her upper lip then stepped forward violently. Then she yelled at Fauna to “step back you heifer!” She strode forward full of class-born bravado. The girl stopped on the step of the throne suddenly aware she had no solution to this puzzle. She turned to Fauna and the expression on her face turned from terror into an arrogant reserve.

Young Girl (solemnly): “If I am fated to die then I am reserved to my fate.” She lowered herself lightly into the cold, hard seat. The crown slid down and she let out a “gack” at the same time as Fauna heard a mechanical spring sound. Blood burst from her mouth. Her severed head and the decapitated corpse fell into the depths beneath the throne. The spots and spatters of dark blood disappeared. The throne was solemn again and even more threatening.

Jenn: “Crap it’s my turn right?”

Isis (to Jenn): “Oh my gawd! You’re gonna die!”

Isis (to me): “Can’t we help her solve this riddle!?”

The GM (me): “Nope.”

Cris: “Naw we can’t help her! We’re not there! Sorry but we’re not there!”

Jenn: “Maybe I should just sit down on the throne.”

Isis & Cris (in unison): “NOOO!”

Finally, Fauna sat with her legs crossed, she contemplated the throne and the inscription at its foot. She took a small dose of Yellow Lotus powder from her robes and snorted it. Shockingly, she was able to maintain consciousness. What played repeatedly in her fevered brain afterwards were Anishi’s words just as he pushed her into the labyrinth’s aperture, “Tread with care my child and be humble”.

Fauna: “Ah-Ha! I got it!”

Immediately she walked over to the step before the throne and kneeled upon it as if in prayer. The stone gave the slightest bit and she could hear a click somewhere inside of the throne. She then rose and sat down in the seat. The gold crown dropped onto her head then she saw a section of wall to her right suddenly slide down and reveal a recognizable chamber in the cave beneath the amphitheater. The crown rose back from her head and she rose as if in a trance towards the exit.

In unison both Jenn and Isis let out a loud sigh.

The next thing Fauna could remember was that Anishi put a necklace of polished raw gems around her neck. After that, she only remembered slogging home through the streets and the hammering light of dawn in her normal dirty robes. She was starving and every muscle screamed along with her lotus-soaked brain. It felt as if she had been in that place for several days rather than a few hours. Her feet really hurt.

Jenn (a sudden realization shooting through her eyes at me): “Oh my gawd, I could have really died.”

The GM (me, shrugging): “Well, yeah.”

To Be Continued…

Creating a Dungeon Map

Mapping is an integral part of Game-Mastering any roleplaying game. Maps are infinitely useful. They functionally visualize settlements (towns, fortresses), ships, or caves, ruins, and dungeons as well as over-maps of landscapes and countries. I also know it can be tough even to get started much less work through to a completed map.

Over a couple of decades of Game-Mastering, I have worked out a certain routine. A routine to follow when formulating and creating maps. Just to be sure of this, I took notes while I created the map for Manifold Maps #2. This routine can get my mind moving and the creative juices flowing even when caught at a standstill. Occasionally, however, I do still run into roadblocks.

Portions of the map I am not happy with or the inability to get a solid picture of what I am trying to do are common obstacles. I also sometimes just seem to run out of ideas somewhere near the beginning. I have learned to work through these dry spells. However, I never try to force it. Eventually, not counting for a possible time-crunch though, I can get going at it again. Although I can stall out for more than a day or two sometimes. Most map-making does involve some stops and starts.

Writing this piece was a personal exploration into my own creative process once I started to realize that I had a process and was working through steps to achieve a completed piece that I was ultimately satisfied with. I hope that others will in the very least find this interesting if not helpful in their own mapping endeavors. The first step in map-making is to have a symbol key at the ready.

Make the Master Key

It is important to have a clear and legible symbol key. This is in order to populate your maps with objects, features, and scenery not to mention encounters, treasures, and traps. A Map Key also sometimes referred to as a Legend is a listing of symbols with their meanings. It is needed to understand a map that uses its symbols. The key can be on the map itself often quartered off. However,  often Games-masters(GMs) might want to use as much of the sheet as possible. So using a Master Key, a universal map key often on a separate sheet of paper, is most useful.

roughing a chamber for map
Roughing some chamber ideas

I have a standard master symbol key that I use for most of my maps. I also may use a few alternate symbols required in certain situations. The key that I use includes adopted symbols and has been refined over a period of several years. So, it might take a while to build or collect a master key suited to your purposes. Personally, I am more concerned when using my key with speed and clarity. I wanted to include symbols in my Legend that are easy to recognize and distinguish from each other. They also had to be easy to draw fast and easily especially when sketching. When in doubt, find already existing ones and crib and adapt them to your needs.

To Start With

I often start with the vision or concept of a single chamber. Which for one reason or another is interesting to me as well as clear in detail. It is often a central or entrance chamber that gives the players a visual taste or general atmosphere of the entire place but not always. Frankly, I grasp at whatever I can clearly visualize. This can be a central or entrance chamber, some side passage, or even the outside mouth/entrance to the place.

An alternate method is to just start laying down features then work a single chamber around those features. This to get the starting point from which to work outward. This I do when the first method is not working for me. This technique is a little more hit or miss. However, I usually come out with something if not a handful of possible chambers to begin plotting.

The map starts to grow from the central chamber

Going back to the visualized chamber; I will sketch this room and try to fumble around with surrounding chambers. How they relate on the map to the central chamber and how they connect. I make a real mess with a pencil on a piece of paper trying to refine the central chamber. Including as I try to find a layout and develop a few chambers that I can string together. This includes creating additional chambers to place on the paper like puzzle pieces, trying the best and most pleasing fit if not the most sadistic or unexpected configurations.

Once a map starts to form, I also try to gain another main idea that may add to the map in a few different ways. These central ideas or main features can include canyons, large pits or fissures, bodies of water, burrows or dugouts that were not a part of the original structure, historical additions or modifications, etc.

The Big Idea

rough sketch of the map
A refined sketch with the big idea

This idea should fill a decent portion of the map, run through it, or help to shape the map and arrangement of chambers. This idea can be a natural or not-so-natural feature, the purpose of the structure that I am mapping or the history of the place that would shape it or its features. With this in hand, I will take a new sheet of paper, sketch the chambers that I designed previously, and use my new idea to arrange the layout.

After I have the layout sketched, I try to add as many details to each chamber (using the SYMBOL KEY) as possible but not so much as to crowd the sketch. I also write notes (sometimes with arrows) around the sketch that I need to draw the refined rough draft or those that need to be included as notes for the map even if they are not present on the map itself. This is also the time that I start writing down ideas for a title.

The title is often times, but not always, based on the central feature or main idea of the map because it is easier to conceive of a name that way. Other things to consider when running through names for your map are its history, current or former uses, what or who may or did reside there, and its reputation (if any). I also like titles that are eye-catching i.e. sound cool and maybe a bit cheesy.

Refining the Rough

ink lined sketch for map
The finished sketch in ink

Now I have my messy pencil sketch. The next step is to carefully pencil a copy of the map on a piece of graph paper. I try to include any notes or symbols on the original rough version. In addition, I take the time to refine my map, add, change, or subtract chambers or other details. In addition, I decide which notes are convertible into symbols and the need for any new ones.

I prefer working with my hands although most of you might want to use other methods, which is fine. Also, I already have all the art supplies so I should use them. My roughs are done entirely in pencil. This refined rough draft is what I use as my blueprint.

I then trace only the parts of the map I will ink. Those are scanned into Photoshop where I have all my Legend symbols ready to place.  I trace the main non-keyed features and walls then clean it up in Photoshop. This is while dropping in the keyed elements and text resulting in the final draft of the map. Essentially, I use Photoshop to create the final polished version of the map. It looks cleaner and the quality is easier to reproduce across several maps if need be.

Recap

  • Decide on a Master Key/Legend to use
  • Try to come up with a single chamber as a starting point
  • Refine it and start thinking about other chambers around it and how they fit together with it
  • Add a central feature or idea to help shape the entire map
  • Start penciling a rough draft from your preliminary sketches
  • Trace off, detail, and refine a draft from the former that will be used as the map blueprint
  • Draw your map based on that blueprint refining your design were necessary
Tabernacle
The finished map

Summation

It is through this process that I draw maps. These include those found in the Zombie Horror book and hopefully future publications. The difficulty really is coming up with the bits and pieces then fitting them together into a coherent, useful, and hopefully aesthetically pleasing map. Start small and work your way out adding in new, bigger ideas as you refine the map. Eventually, you will end up with a complete map. Remember that it does not have to be huge or too complex to be useful. Lastly, the tools to produce should not matter as much as your own personal skill and knowledge with them.